Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Speaking of Speaking…(and Listening)

Written by: on April 19, 2023

While a Lead Pastor does a bunch of other work outside of the pulpit, they can’t escape the fact that they speak for a living (unless they have a preaching pastor on their team). Most of us as Lead Pastors can struggle to be organized or do mediocre HR and still be in the congregation’s good graces…but if our preaching is ineffective: trouble!

Here are some points where Treasure and I went deeper together:

Speaking from a Context (Our own):

I am a big believer in ‘team teaching’ for larger churches that have multiple Pastors who are gifted with that charisma—it’s more healthy for the church and guards against the celebrity culture that Evangelical churches tend to gravitate towards. While Julian Treasure identifies a lot of common characteristics that help with effective communication in his book, How To Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening, (1) we can’t get away from the fact that each individual speaker will connect with a particular portion of any given crowd. This is, in part, because our talk arises out of the context of ourselves and then is communicated through the medium of ourselves. (2). Thus any talk given from the same passage of scripture, even with identical content, will be presented and received differently by the listeners. This diversity serves the diverse body of Christ who gather each Sunday to listen and learn.

Two Areas Where I can Improve My Communication:

I decided to go through Treasure’s book as a sort of grid to evaluate my own speaking habits and two points stood out to me:

1. The Big Idea (3): The big idea wasn’t a new idea, but as I read through those pages, I recognized that I can get ‘lazy’ at times and be content with several minor ideas rather than one big one, particularly when I am preaching through a book of the bible and a paragraph of scripture. I agree that one big idea is generally a good goal….but I am not convinced every single preach needs to be formatted in the one big idea framework….what do you listeners think?
2. Framing conflict avoidance and avoiding difficult emotions as poor communication was insightful and motivating for me. I love to debate ideas but avoid giving feedback that I believe will be hard for others to hear. Apart from not being ‘healthily differentiated’ (Friedman) as a leader in those moments, I am also not being clear which, in turn, does not give my team members the best chance of understanding and changing or growing. I want to commit to being more clear in my feedback in the months ahead.

Two People Who Should Hang Out Together & Learn from One Another: Treasure and Friedman

I would love to be a fly on the wall as Treasure and Friedman (4) talked through the notion of empathy. Friedman names empathy (or what it has come to mean in our culture) as a primary problem in our species (5) and Treasure identifies empathy as an essential characteristic of listening that facilitates intimacy between people (6) and, consequently, effective communication. In doing so, Treasure uses some language that I suspect Friedman is reacting against in his book: Empathetic listening, “means feeling the other person’s feelings.” (7) This is the sort of poorly articulated and emotionally unhealthy definition of empathy that Friedman is challenging, and rightly so. On the next page, Treasure quotes Professor Marisue Pickering who lists four characteristics of empathetic listeners that provide a useful, succinct definition of healthy empathy (8).

Speaking (and Leading) Out of Who You Are:

In chapter 5 Treasure lists four foundations of powerful speaking (9) and what struck me was that all four were characteristics that define who we are: Honesty, Authentic, Integrity, Love. Much like Simon Walker, (10) Treasure identifies that our most effective communication flows out of and is congruent with the reality of our inner life. More than this, a HAIL life builds trust between people—or in my case between preacher and congregation—that allows for undefended listening and undefended leading, which it good for all involved.

Video Church: Non-powerful Speaking and Listening?

At the risk of using Treasure’s book to reinforce my bias, I attempted to apply much of what Treasure says about the context of good communication—both listening and speaking—and most of it all fell woefully short as it relates to campus congregations gathering to watch a screen of a preacher in another building and perhaps in another city. Yet tens of thousands of Christians do this each week. Why? Does the charisma of delivery and great content diminish the need for context, relationship and trust between listener and speaker? I would be interested to hear Treasure unpack some of this reality—it is, after all, the world he exists in as a TEDtalk professional. And what about my cohort?  Do any of you go to video-church and does it work for you?

All told, Treasure has provided an easy-to-digest book with numerous practical tips on improving our communication and connection with people. It was a beneficial read!

(1) Treasure, Julian. How to Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening. Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing, 2017.
(2) Ibid., 36.
(3) Ibid., 211
(4) Friedman, Edwin H., Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 10th anniversary revised edition. New York: Church Publishing, 2017.
(5) Ibid., 145-146
(6) Treasure, Julian. How to Be Heard: Secrets for Powerful Speaking and Listening. Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing, 2017. 152.
(7) Ibid., 152
(8) Ibid., 152-153
(9) Ibid., 187-203
(10) Walker, Simon P. Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. Carlisle: Piquant, 2007

About the Author

Scott Dickie

11 responses to “Speaking of Speaking…(and Listening)”

  1. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    I love the way your blog is organized. I always learn so much from your posts. I loved this: “Treasure lists four foundations of powerful speaking (9) and what struck me was that all four were characteristics that define who we are: Honesty, Authentic, Integrity, Love.” I was just talking to my, soon to be, 15 year-old son about these qualities and how important they are. Thank you for the confirmation or the “God Wink” as I often refer to moments like this.

    • Scott Dickie says:

      Thanks Jonita. Yes…so much directed at us and our children concerning what they can ‘do’ and not near enough consideration and contemplation about who we are or who we are becoming. Interestingly, several of our required readings highlight the importance of being and how that relates to our effectiveness in doing (I referenced 2 in my blog but even the “Hero’s Journey” speaks to experience, transformation, and then service to others…).

  2. Esther Edwards says:

    Hi, Scott,
    I admire how you are able to synthesize so many of the readings and have them interact in your writing.
    As for your question regarding the one big idea framework, I often struggle in keeping it to one idea when I formulate a sermon. However, I can hear my husband asking “What is the one thing you want the audience to come away with?” whenever I struggle with too many ideas. I guess the test is, can people recall what we communicated?

    • Scott Dickie says:

      Thanks Esther. I’m grateful for spouses who can help us! Sometimes mine will be a bit more forthright: “What’s your point?”

      Speaking to the diversity of listeners…I will sometimes unpack a paragraph of verses and highlight three lessons from the passage that aren’t necessarily all related to one big idea. Then, for application, I’ll ask people to invite the Spirit to speak to them as it relates to which one is most important for them at this moment. My wondering, as I occasionally do this, is, “Am I giving more people in all their diversity of experiences and places in life MORE opportunities to hear and apply God’s truth into their lives by highlighting a diversity of points (three in most cases) or am I just watering down a primary point or confusing people?” I guess I need to ask my staff or congregation who have to endure my talks!

  3. Jennifer Vernam says:

    It was clever how you pulled together Treasure’s and Friedman’s varying views on empathy. I think the tension you highlighted is one that is worth wrestling with for a bit. Could this be just an issue of semantics? Or is it possible to hold both as somewhat true?

    • Scott Dickie says:

      Hi Jenn.

      It might be semantics, but I wonder if it is more related to definition–and poor definition in each case. As I wrote in my blog re: Friedman…he actually discloses that he is using the term “empathy” as it is being used by current culture and not the actual definition of the word itself. That’s problematic in my mind. On the flip side, Treasure summarizes the term incorrectly (in my view) and uses it in exactly the way that Friedman doesn’t like! He generally redeems himself by quoting some good points related to empathetic listening after his simplistic definition of ’empathy’, but when a term/word/concept is a bit contentious, an author has to be extra careful what they are putting in print!

  4. mm Kim Sanford says:

    As someone who has very little experience with preaching sermons, but some experience in discipling others, I do think the “big idea” concept is valid. When I read a scripture passage, for example, I don’t feel the need to understand every single aspect or to get every nugget out of it. Rather, I look at it through the lens of a question, “What is it that you want me to take away from this today, Lord?”

    This reminds me of two principles we talk about in our church. First, God would prefer 100% obedience to all the knowledge we have of Him, even if we only know a little bit. He’s not honored by someone who knows a whole lot about Him but only obeys 10%. Secondly, at the end of every worship gathering, we ask each person to reflect on the question, similar to what I mentioned above, “What do I want to retain from the teaching today?”

    I would love to hear tips and tricks from your context, how do you move your listeners toward applying what they’ve heard? Toward meaningful and lasting spiritual growth?

  5. Scott Dickie says:

    Kim…I’m totally going to steal like an artist and use that phrase/thought in a future sermon (somewhat adapted by me): God would prefer 100% obedience to the 20% we know of Him than 20% obedience to the 80% we know of/about Him.” That’ll preach!

    I responded a bit more concerning multiple points in a sermon in response to Esther’s comments (wondering if it better acknowledges the diversity of listeners in the room and what they might be dealing with at the time)…so I won’t repeat myself here. Rather I’ll answer your question: I often include a few examples of the way a biblical truth might play itself out in ‘real life’ for the listeners….but I will still end many sermons inviting a time of quiet reflection, inviting the Spirit to come and reveal truth and apply it into their lives–recognizing that He know exactly what they need in that moment…and then a final encouragement to take courage and do whatever He is asking…and to share about it in their mid-week Community Groups.

    On another note: your response had me thinking about a comments that I heard a while back about Evangelical’s addiction to application–essentially it was something like: If a teaching isn’t immediately applicable to our lives, we don’t care. Obviously all truth should somehow be applicable to our lives…so I think what the person was referring to is NOT so much the fact that some truth about God doesn’t have implications for our lives….but rather approaching the Bible (and preachers their sermons) like a self-help resources that keeps US as the central figure and our lives as the primary concern. I am not meaning to suggest that is where you are coming from as it relates to you comments. More, as a thoughtful learner and teacher, I am wondering if you have heard such comments before and if you have wrestled through such things?

  6. Travis Vaughn says:

    Scott, you asked about whether or not any of us go to “video-church and does it work for you?” Our home church is quite large (not as large as some, but for being a presbyterian church, we are large) and we do have two additional venues on our campus where parishioners can watch from a screen — our more liturgical service that takes place in our beautiful stained glass window-ed chapel, and another venue that many of our younger families attend. However, we made a decision many years ago to not do “campus churches” and instead have decided to plant new churches, and so we have daughtered, grand-daughtered, or great-grand-daughtered about 45 new churches in our city over the past four decades. I would guess this is in part to what Treasure has addressed as the context for communication. We have some opinions about “video-church,” and yet I do have some colleagues who do that very thing. Is this a conversation that you’ve had with other Canadians in general, or Vancouver-ians in particular? I would be curious where the differences are between American and Canadian evangelicals. That would be an interesting context. I would need to employ Treasure’s “conscious listening” in that conversation, I would think.

  7. Scott Dickie says:

    Hi Travis,

    We have a few larger churches in Canada doing video satellite congregations. Most in the same city…one in different cities throughout Canada. There is certainly a contingent in Canada that would feel comfortable with such a medium, but on the whole, I think Canadians are less comfortable with video church. This could be, in part, because Canadians are less taken with ‘celebrities’ than Americans appear to be…and many of the campus video churches seem driven by charismatic preachers who have a following. Theologically–and certainly from Treasure’s perspective on meaningful communication–it seems video church is a good secondary option for people who are homebound and can’t connect any other way…but a diminished expression of church as a regular way of being together…at least, that’s my perspective.

  8. mm John Fehlen says:

    We do not do a video service (ie: campus), but have flirted with it, and am not outright opposed. However, I would prefer (*not dogmatically, just prefer) it to be lead and taught in person rather than on screen. That would require a team, of course, and some organization and flow of services.

    For example: we have a 9 and 11 am right now. When we add another one, it will most likely be a 8ish service in another building on our campus (ie: youth/ministry center) with a live band and me or one of our pastors teaching live. The 9 am can kick off in the other building and the teaching pastor can join it in progress. In each service we would have a designated “pastor” that hosts, prays, leads, etc for continuity.

    How are you doing it? Multiple services, video? Etc. etc?

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